Children, backpacking, and photography

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 9th, 2011

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about our son, what we can learn from children, and most importantly, that he was “training” for his first big boy backpacking trip.  This past weekend, we visited the Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite National Park, and although a trip like this with a small child had the potential to turn out really badly, it ended up being very enjoyable.  The success of the trip was due to quite a bit of luck, planning, collaboration between my wife and I, and as I wrote last time, a new way of seeing.

Reflection of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Peak, September 2011

Ever since Owen was a small baby (even before he was born), he’s been in a walking family.  When my wife was pregnant, she walked about 8 miles a day, and since then we’ve walked with him.  For almost 2 1/2 years, he rode in a baby carrier (even on his first backpacking trip).  So, leading up to the day he finally hiked by himself, he understood what hiking was about.

Still, children are anything but fast on the trail, so a reward system for small accomplishments was key.  My wife carried a sticker book and let him choose stickers as rewards often.  Although the pace probably felt rushed to him, to an adult, it can feel slow–glacially slow.  For all but the most patient individual, it becomes easy to let frustration with the pace creep in.  To help avoid that, my wife and I took turns hiking ahead, just to feel like we were making a little faster progress.  That said, the most important lesson learned here is to enjoy the journey for its own sake.  The day’s endpoint is not the goal–not by a long shot.

You might remember my post from a year or so ago–Range of Light–in which I described Owen’s first backpacking trip.  As a parent, you can’t take this sort of trip lightly.  In a sense, this is “make it or break it” time–during these formative years, you have the opportunity for your child to forge a connection with the wilderness.  To say that wilderness is our heritage may be cliché, but it is the greatest gift we can leave future generations.  Perhaps even more important than fighting for it, we must teach our children to be stewards for the land.

To this end, a trip like this isn’t about you, its about your kids…the future.  As a result, the photographer in you may find you get as much time to scout locations, and set up as you’d like.  Although my wife is incredibly accommodating, with a 3-year-old in camp, there are chores to be done, and they take longer than normal.  I found myself rushing out of camp as the light changed, shooting for 30 minutes, and coming back to check on the family.

The more I contemplate the motivations behind my own photography, I become more and more convinced that understanding my own sense of place is crucial.  As a result, emphasis shifts to the experience rather than the image harvest–I have never understood the idea of taking 1,000 frames in a weekend and taking 6 months to process them.  Spending time with my family in the backcountry–letting my son establish his own sense of place–and making a few quality, heartfelt images along the way seems to be the way to go.

A small child enjoys the yosemite national park backcountry

Contentment, September 2011


18 Comments so far ↓

  1. Russ Bishop says:

    Great post and great picture Greg -the smile says it all!

  2. That smile…..PRICELESS!

  3. latoga says:

    You’ve obviously trained him right based on that smile! Great set of links as MG just turned one and loves our evening “hikes” thru golf course with him in baby carrier backpack…

  4. A magical image, glowing with joy. I endorse your conclusions wholeheartedly.

  5. Hamish says:

    Great post, perhaps a deeper message beyond enjoying a day out on the trails with his parents is also the cultivation of a love for the outdoors, something that – if caught on early in life – can only develop into a strong attachment and awareness of the natural world.
    Plus camping is great fun 🙂

  6. pj says:

    Great photo and post. Sounds like you have your priorities straight my friend. That’s a good place to be. Instilling a love of wildness in your son is worth more than any thousand photographs could ever be.

  7. Scott Bacon says:

    AWESOME!! This is very similar to the experience we’ve had/made with our children (now 5 and 7). And I can’t begin to describe how great I feel when I learn that others are doing the same with their children.

    “…you have the opportunity for your child to forge a connection with the wilderness.”

    “…we must teach our children to be stewards for the land.”

    Beautifully said!

  8. Alister Benn says:

    NIce one mate… some sound advice there for the folks with youngsters…

  9. Alister Benn says:

    PS – damned fine images too 🙂

  10. Another great post, Greg, thanks! Can’t wait! Though I think for ours rafting will come before backpacking, as it did for me.

  11. Sharon says:

    Wonderful post, Greg and your son is soooo handsome. What a great-looking and happy boy.


  12. I have no experience raising a child, but your way seems very well planned and bound for many more enjoyable trips. Owen does look like one very happy little guy.

  13. Greg Boyer says:

    Very good post. It sums up what I went through when I had a young family. I put away the cameras and just enjoyed the children. Not until they were older and on their own did I once again pursue photography seriously. I never regretted the decision.

  14. Greg – this is a great story and your little boy is beyond adorable. I did not go on a hike until I was 20 and absolutely hated it the first time around. I wish that I had these kinds of experiences when I was younger – I have had a lot of catching up to do. Really nice image, too – I love the grasses in the image at the top of the post.

  15. Thanks for the comments, everyone! Becoming a parent has changes so many of my perspectives on life; not only is it my favorite job in the world, but it also gives me a greater sense of responsibility, and tests me every day in one way or another. Its been great to help introduce him to the outdoors, as well as to hear all of your experiences and comments. In many ways, building the next generation of wilderness lovers and advocates is the job of the community at large. I’m happy to have you all as part of this community!

  16. Wonderful blog post, Greg! I began my “serious” growth as a photographer in exactly the manner you described here. I had three boys and we have hiked and camped (RV style and tenting) our way across the U.S. (including Alaska) and Canada. Our destinations were places I chose because I hoped to photograph them, but the memories are of me with my precious sons and I wouldn’t have missed that time with them for anything. My oldest boy just headed off to college and we had three backpacking trips this summer – one with my nearly 80 year old father. The photography piece of these trips isn’t always easy. In fact, it is just plain complicated much of the time. I don’t miss the missed shots, as I got some nice shots along the way anyway.

    I love seeing that smile on your son’s face…keep taking him out and build the memories that go with the photographs. I am envious and wish I was just starting out on this journey again as you are!

    • Thanks, Becky for this really thoughtful reply! Your story is inspiring, as you’ve built a family around the outdoors, and your sons, I’m sure, will do so with their own families some day.

      Its too easy in the “daily life” to forget about the small things that really matter; I’ll make sure to take your advice and get outdoors with my son as often as possible–it will be over before I know it!

      Thanks again for your reply!

Leave a Comment